E-commerce brings nearly half of holiday retail growth

January 9, 2013 04:20 PM

It’s déjà vu all over again as web sales growth dwarfed store sales growth once more this holiday season. Data released today from ShopperTrak show retail store sales rose just 2.5% year over year in November and December 2012 to $248.8 billion. Foot traffic increased 2.5% as well, according to ShopperTrak, which monitors traffic and sales at major malls and retail chains.

Meanwhile, U.S. consumers spent $42.28 billion online in November and December, a 13.7%  increase compared to $37.17 billion during the holiday shopping season in 2011, according to web measurement firm comScore Inc. ComScore measures the web activities of 1 million U.S. consumers; ShopperTrak only counts sales in bricks-and-mortar retail stores.

Putting the two estimates together, they show that online sales grew $5.1 billion during the 2012 holiday season and store sales $6.1 billion. In other words, the web accounted for 14.5% of holiday retail sales but 45.5% of retail sales growth.

The numbers represent an extension of a holiday retail sales trend that strongly favors the web. Holiday web sales growth also significantly outpaced store sales growth in 2011. Online sales grew 15% year over year from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, 2011, according to comScore Inc., while store sales grew 3.7%, according to ShopperTrak.

“Online sales continue to take away from stores,” says Frank Badillo, senior economist at Kantar Media, which publishes data on traffic and spending across a range of industries, including retail. “They continue to post double-digit growth while store sales are flat or only slightly increase.”

ShopperTrak’s findings are similar to those of ICSC, a trade organization for shopping centers. It finds sales at U.S. chain stores, not including drug stores, increased just 3.1% year over year in November and December.

Other research paints an even grimmer picture for holiday store sales.  RetailNext, a vendor that provides data about store shopper behavior to retail chains, says holiday sales for the stores it tracks fell 3.4% this holiday season. RetailNext analyzed 8.5 million shopping trips to 780 U.S. stores across nine retail chains from Nov. 22 to Jan 1.

Trips to stores were down 16.4% over that holiday period, the vendor says. However, stores helped make up for the drastic foot traffic drop with a 3.7% increase in average transaction value and a 1.4 basis point increase in conversions. RetailNext did not provide average transaction value or conversion rate.

Several of the heaviest store sales days fell late in the season, suggesting shoppers headed to shops when they realized they couldn’t order online in time for their gifts to be delivered by Christmas or that they would have to pay a hefty chunk of change for expedited shipping.

According to RetailNext, store sales peaked on Saturday, Dec. 22, beating Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, by 11%. Store traffic on Black Friday, meanwhile, fell 9.2% compared with the same day last year. However, an average transaction value increase of 11.5% partly offset the traffic decline, resulting in sales that day falling 3.2% compared with Black Friday 2011.

Traffic to stores on Christmas Eve fell 12.2% year over year, while sales fell 1.5%, RetailNext says. On the day after Christmas, sales declined 7.5% while traffic fell a large 29.5%.

Several shifts in the holiday calendar impacted store sales and traffic this year, says Shelley Kohan, vice president of retail consulting for RetailNext. “In 2011, Christmas fell on a Sunday,” Kohan says. “That led to softness on the Saturday before Christmas, (Christmas Eve) compared to 2012, when that Saturday was an unencumbered shopping day with the season's largest sales,” “Likewise, the day after Christmas in 2011 was a holiday for most people, but not in 2012, leading to a significant sales drop."

The top five sales days of the 2012 holiday season from highest to lowest for the stores tracked by RetailNext were:

• Saturday, Dec. 22

• Black Friday, Nov. 23

• Friday, Dec. 21

• Saturday, Dec. 15

• Sunday, Dec. 23

The highest foot traffic days for the stores RetailNext tracks were Black Friday followed by Dec. 22 and Dec. 15—the two Saturdays before Christmas. Thanksgiving Day and Christmas day, meanwhile, bought the highest average transaction values.

ShopperTrak also reports many top store sales days took place near Christmas. While Black Friday led the pack for holiday store sales, it was followed by Saturday, Dec. 22, Sunday, Dec. 23, Friday, Dec. 21, and Saturday, Dec. 15.

Mid-to-late December days also did well in traffic, according to ShopperTrak. Black Friday retains the top spot and Saturday, Nov. 24 comes in as the fifth-busiest traffic store traffic day. However, the days close to Christmas were also strong. Saturday, Dec. 22 was the second-busiest shopping day of the season, followed by Saturday, Dec. 15 in third and Sunday, Dec. 23 ranking fourth, ShopperTrak says.

“Heavy discounting by (store) retailers at the end of December led to increases in shopper activity across the board,” says ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin.

The heaviest online shopping days mostly came earlier in the season, when many retailers were still offering free shipping. The top online shopping days, comScore says, were Tuesday, Dec. 4; Monday, Dec. 10; Tuesday, Nov. 27; and Tuesday, Dec. 11.





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